The Yomiuri Shimbun (Sep. 26, 2010)
Chinese skipper's release a political decision
中国人船長釈放 関係修復を優先した政治決着(9月25日付・読売社説)

Prosecutors decided Friday to release a Chinese trawler captain, who was arrested following collisions between his ship and two Japan Coast Guard patrol vessels off the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea, without taking further legal action against him for now.

The Naha District Public Prosecutors Office in Okinawa Prefecture, which was investigating the captain, said, "The impact on the people of this nation and the future of Japan-China relations were taken into consideration."

The decision came soon after it was learned that four Japanese nationals had been taken into custody by Chinese authorities for allegedly filming "military targets" in Hebei Province.

"The impact on the people" was mentioned apparently out of concern over the possibility that the detention of the Japanese might be prolonged.

Beijing ties given priority

The prosecutors office explained that authorities were unable to prove the captain's action had been deliberately planned and that the collisions did not result in injury or serious damage.

But this is inconsistent, as investigative authorities cited the malign nature of the incident to explain the arrest and detention of the skipper.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshito Sengoku insisted that the prosecutors office made the decision on its own. But there is no doubt that the issue was settled in a political decision by Prime Minister Naoto Kan and other senior members of the government and the Democratic Party of Japan. It also is said that the decision came because the U.S. government called for an early settlement of the issue.

Since the Japanese government repeatedly said the incident would be handled in line with domestic laws, the decision gave the impression that the Japanese government had given in and failed to stick to its original stance. Many people in this nation likely share this critical view. The government needs to provide the public with a thorough and convincing explanation.

Needless to say, the Senkaku Islands are an inherent part of Japan. The government must assert this point repeatedly both at home and abroad.

Long-term effects

We also cannot disregard the repercussions the latest decision will likely bring about in the future.

It is possible that JCG patrols will no longer have a strong deterrent effect on Chinese trawlers that illegally fish in Japan's territorial waters off the Senkaku Islands. The organizational functions of the JCG and its cooperation with the Maritime Self-Defense Force should be strengthened.

Amid the dispute over the skipper's detention, China blocked exports to Japan of rare earths vital for the production of hybrid car parts and other items. This development serves as a strong reminder that China is a trade partner of unpredictable risk.

Regarding materials that are largely sourced from inside China, it is crucial to secure other sources of such materials.

China acted high-handedly apparently with anti-Japan hard-liners at home in mind. But the series of countermeasures successively taken by China over a short period of time--such as the suspension of youth exchange events and negotiations over a bilateral treaty on joint development of natural gas fields in the East China Sea--were obviously going too far.

Japan should not be simply lured to a "friendship" approach toward China. From the standpoint of seeking "strategic and mutually beneficial relations," Japan must pursue its national interests calmly and realistically regarding China.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Sept. 25, 2010)
(2010年9月25日01時24分  読売新聞)